The Toronto Maple Leafs had their end-of-season media availability Monday, and everyone from GM Kyle Dubas to each and every player said the right things about coming back next season. But that doesn’t mean the status quo is going to be adhered to in the off-season and the start of next year. To the contrary – this Leafs team does need a significant degree of change.
Let’s break down Toronto’s roster and management structure, and make our best guess as to who is coming back next season, and who has played their last game in Blue and White:
Returning management: Team president Brendan Shanahan, GM Kyle Dubas, head coach Sheldon Keefe
Management breakdown: The Leafs’ success in finally getting out of the first round gave enough cachet to the management team of Shanahan-Dubas-and-Keefe to return for next season. Yes, the drubbing Toronto took in the second round is a sobering look at how far the team still has to go, but at least to start next season, we think Keefe’s job is safe for the time being.
That said, if the Leafs stumble out of the gate next year, and the NHL allows longtime bench boss Joel Quenneville to return to action, it’s possible Keefe gets replaced. But we believe Shanahan and Dubas have the support of ownership, and it will give the management team one more shot. That would mean giving Dubas a shorter new contract – two or three years – but if it goes awry next season, the franchise can grit its teeth and eat the remaining years of Dubas’ new deal. Toronto clearly has enough money to afford that option.
Returning forwards: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Calle Jarnkroc, Sam Lafferty, Nick Robertson, Matthew Knies, Bobby McMann
Possibly-returning forwards: William Nylander, Ryan O’Reilly, Michael Bunting
Probably not-returning forwards: Alex Kerfoot, David Kampf, Noel Acciari, Zach Aston-Reese, Wayne Simmonds
Forwards breakdown: It might be more likely that Dubas is willing to listen to bids for any player on Toronto’s current roster, but nobody wants to be known as the GM who gave up on Matthews or Marner. Tavares’ contract makes him unmovable, and he still provides some value, even though he’s relatively overpaid in comparison to his $11-million-per-season deal.
But Toronto’s looming salary cap crunch will likely result in a younger group of Leafs forwards, and spell the end of the line in Toronto for veterans who probably will get better financial offers from other teams. Acciari in particular was terrific after being acquired from St. Louis in the O’Reilly blockbuster deal, and Kampf has been consistently great in a fourth-line role. But they’re a luxury the Leafs can no longer afford.
The consequences of that cap crunch means youngsters such as Knies, Robertson and McMann will get major opportunities to start the year. Robertson missed most of the season with an injury, but he has great support from Dubas. Knies looked like a budding star, and he’ll probably get time on the top two forward lines. And McMann showed enough jam in his first 10 NHL games – and in his time with the American League’s Toronto Marlies, with whom he had 21 goals and 30 games this season – to register on the radar of Dubas and Keefe.
The really intriguing players to keep an eye on are Nylander, O’Reilly and Bunting. Toronto doesn’t have the cap space to bring back all three of those players, and Nylander’s value has never been higher after his all-around best season yet, so he’s easiest to move for defensive help – for instance, would the Los Angeles Kings consider a deal for Nylander that brought elite defenseman Drew Doughty to Toronto? Stranger things have happened in this league.
O’Reilly made a terrific impact as a veteran, calming presence who also added edge on the ice, and we understand that Dubas didn’t make the trade for him just to be a rental, so if he does re-sign, Leafs brass would be over the moon. Bunting, meanwhile, may be too pricey for Toronto, but he may wind up returning as the cheapest option of the three.
Finally, let’s wish all the best to Simmonds – a tremendous team player who gave it his all, right through the year, and even when he was healthy-scratched – as well as Kerfoot and Aston-Reese, who likely will get more lucrative offers elsewhere. To sum it up, there will be wide-ranging change up front for Toronto, and the only question is which players lose the privilege of playing in one of hockey’s true meccas.
Ep 119: Patrick Mahomes' Top 5 List
by Full Press Coverage on May 27, 2023 at 7:49 pm
Returning defensemen: Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie, Jake McCabe, Mark Giordano, Timothy Liljegren, Connor Timmins
Possibly-returning defensemen: Luke Schenn
Probably not-returning defensemen: Justin Holl, Erik Gustafsson, Jake Muzzin
Defensemen breakdown: The Leafs got a phenomenal playoff from Rielly, who struggled at times in the regular season, but who will be their top defenseman again next year. Brodie had some notable miscues at times against Florida in the second round, but he’s still a minute-muncher who is one of Toronto’s more physical players.
McCabe also had some issues during the Panthers series, but he can still be an effective, physical competitor on either Toronto’s second or third defensive pairing. Giordano can’t be relied on to play heavy minutes anymore, but his mentality and instincts are still solid, and he’ll only make $850,000 next season. And Schenn was absolutely excellent after being acquired at the deadline. He may choose to head back to Vancouver, but he showed he’s got lots still left in the tank, and Leafs brass loved his play here. We wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see him back with Toronto.
Elsewhere, Liljegren and Timmins will round out the defense, but we expect Dubas to use the majority of his cap space on bolstering his blueline. Whether that happens via free agency or a trade is the only real question here. If they can get a top-four defenseman, you’d better believe they’ll do whatever they can to make that happen.
The three probably not-returning D-men include Holl – whom we’ve said many times that we don’t believe in as an elite NHL defenseman, yet who probably will get a contract offer as an unrestricted free agent that’s too costly for the Buds. Muzzin’s health is still in question, and if he is placed on Long-Term Injury Reserve again next year, his $5.625-million cap hit would be highly valuable for Toronto. Gustafsson was an asset we thought should’ve been used more often by Keefe, and he’ll likely get a more lucrative offer from another franchise.
All in all, Toronto’s defense will also look notably different next year. Dubas needs to make this team harder to play against, particularly in its own zone, and his moves on ‘D’ will reflect that reality.
Returning goaltenders: Ilya Samsonov, Joseph Woll
Possibly-returning goaltenders: None
Probably not-returning goaltenders: Matt Murray
Around Full Press Hockey
NHL: Arizona Coyotes New Arena Approaches Fateful Vote
NHL: NHL All-Star Game Thoughts and Possible Changes
NFL: What Eddie Robinson Told Doug Williams After He Made History 35 Years Ago
Full Press Bets: The Five Most Intriguing NFL Schedules for 2023
PODCAST: Full Press Hockey Weekly Ep 55: Stanley Cup Playoffs, Road Warriors, and More
WANT MORE PODCASTS? Check Out Some Of The Latest From Around The FPC Network
Goaltenders breakdown: This was a year of big opportunities for Toronto goalies who hadn’t wowed consistently with their previous NHL teams. Samsonov and Murray were both brought in on show-me-what-you’ve-got deals, and Samsonov made the most of it, earning the starter’s job with solid play through the regular season and in the first round against Tampa Bay. He’s a restricted free agent who is going to get almost a 100 percent bump in salary, but he won’t break the bank, and probably will get a two-or-three-year deal at between $3-and-4-million per season.
Rookie goalie Woll was tremendous in limited action, and he almost assuredly will serve as Samsonov’s understudy next season. Woll is signed for just $766,667 for the next two seasons, and that cap value is music to Dubas’ ears. He’s basically a lock for the No. 2 job.
Murray, on the other hand, simply could not stay healthy, and when he was fit enough to play, he was too inconsistent for management’s liking. He’s under contract at a $4.687-million salary next season, and that’s far too rich for Toronto. He’ll either have his contract bought out, be placed on LTIR, or traded. But the trade option will mean Dubas has to attach another asset – a draft pick or prospect – to get another team to bite on a deal, and when they can simply buy out his contract without sending a good player away, it makes no sense to trade him. Regardless, we don’t see Murray returning to the Leafs, under any circumstances.
Leave a Reply